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Being Slaves to Anxiety by Anna Youssef

Anxiety

[ang-zahy-i-tee]

Noun

  1. Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune

  2. Earnest but tense desire; eagerness

Everyone has some type of anxiety: a test coming up, a job interview, proposing to a significant other, the political and economic situations that are happening around the world, moving into a new house, or a hectic day at work, etc. It’s a normal type of emotion that happens to everyone at some point in life.

I struggle with anxiety every single day; the constant running ragged circles in my mind, the continuous “what if” questions, and the antagonizing replay of every event, conversation, and person that have impacted me in some way. My anxiety is at its peak when there is a big change in my life such as graduating from college, moving from North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee, and starting the Nashville Fellows Program. Let’s be honest though - who wouldn’t have anxiety during a big transition?

Since I have moved to Nashville and have been in the Fellows Program for a little over two months, I have begun to notice that I have become a slave to anxiety. I have let anxiety own my thoughts, opinions, and emotions in every aspect of my life. In my job as a Preschool Spanish Teacher, I worry about whether children are understanding what I am teaching them and how I look to teachers who have more experience than me.  In our classes on Monday mornings, I am sometimes afraid to speak up because my answers might not be “good enough” in comparison to the other Fellows’ answers. I critique every little thing I say, every interaction with someone, and always note the flaws and negatives. I have built walls to deflect anything that might hurt my heart, but those walls have also kept out what other people deem the “good things” about me, and what I think of myself.

As I drive to work everyday, I listen to the song, “At the Cross,” sung by Chris Tomlin.

At the cross, at the cross

I surrender my life

I’m in awe of You

I’m in awe of You

Where your love ran red

And my sin washed white

I owe all to You

I owe all to You, Jesus

This song has helped me to realize that I don’t have to be a slave to anxiety and that I can surrender it to the Lord. Through the Fellows Program, my walls are slowly coming down, and I am seeing myself as God sees me. I have been learning and continue to learn how to lay my burdens down to allow my friends and those closest to me to see the beautifully broken, vulnerable person that I am. I pray that over the course of the next six months, I can continue to be myself, not ashamed of who God has made me to be, and to help others not become slaves to their anxieties.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


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Our Focus by Daniel Huff

Over the last several years, I have become increasingly convicted of my own selfishness. My every action and thought focused on myself, my future, my friends, my image, my career, my goals, my money, my opinions, my appearance, and my life. And this is perfectly fine for pretty much everyone that does not claim to be a follower of Jesus, but if I say that I am a follower of Christ who has given Him my life, then this is a problem because my life is no longer my own. It is His.

A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote a blog that has challenged and impacted me to this day. He had just read the Gospel of Matthew and he wrote:

“What I continue to see in these passages and throughout the whole book is this theme of complete and total abandonment for Jesus. Livelihood, plans, future, jobs, family even, Jesus asks for it all. He continually emphasizes that we don’t live for this world — that we should not seek treasures or security or comfort here. There’s this almost stupid invitation in the words Jesus says so often — “Follow Me.” What Jesus is asking in Matthew makes no sense to anyone but those who truly love Jesus. To everyone else, that is too great a sacrifice, too high a price, and appears to be throwing your life straight down the drain — a drain of homelessness, poverty, pain, suffering, strife, even death.”

I never saw myself as a selfish person until I realized just how many things I didn’t want to (and don’t want to) give to God. I like to compartmentalize my faith and have it fit into a nice box where I can take it out on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and then not really have it bother me any other times, but being a Christian is so inconvenient. The Fellows went to hear Paige Brown speak one Wednesday night at West End Community Church and she said, “How often does God contradict you? If He never does, maybe you are serving a God of your own making?” And then this past weekend the Fellows went on an incredible retreat to Memphis where we got to hear a young pastor named Tim Johnson speak and at one point he said, “When was the last time you lost a friend for standing on the Word of God? Is it worth it?” I am not saying that we should be trying to lose friends because we hold so strictly to our views, but I am wrestling with the fact that my faith really doesn’t interfere with my life like Jesus says it should (go read Matthew).

I am too selfish to really give all these things to God for fear that I might not get them back, but selfishness is at the root of it. As I have thought more about it, selfishness (or pride) is really the root of every sin that I can think of. Selfishness caused Adam and Eve to eat the fruit so that they might be like God, selfishness caused David to kill Uriah so that he could marry Bathsheba, selfishness caused Judas to sell out Jesus so that he might get 30 pieces of silver.

I have been thinking a lot on this topic lately and the negative impact of our constant self-focus. I sometimes wonder if much of the anxiety, worry, depression, doubt, self-loathing, and insecurity of my generation isn’t a result of chronic selfishness (Note: I am aware that much if this is actually caused by legitimate medical conditions and imbalances of chemicals in the brain. I am not claiming to speak about such things). Could it be that so many of these problems arise because we are constantly self-assessing, examining, and comparing? Then the result is that we continue focusing on ourselves in the hope of healing ourselves so that we might eventually be content or happy with ourselves. Is it surprising that we find that we are broken when we look at ourselves under this constant microscope? We have become so focused on how we should be, and we take that mindset into the “perfect” presentations that other people attempt to display when they themselves are just as broken. It is no wonder we think we are messed up when our comparisons are the doctored and carefully curated personalities of celebrities and the “Instagram famous.” But really should we be so surprised when we look at ourselves and find that we are broken? I mean isn’t that exactly what the Bible tells us we are? If I am already a deeply flawed person and then on top of that I compare myself to these fake people who only present their best selves, is it any wonder that I get disheartened and discouraged about myself?

But what if our identity could be perfectly summed up in the gospel? What if it presented both a hopeless depravity that humbles us, as well as, a loving Savior who deemed us so precious that He came to die so that we might have life? Tim Keller says, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” In the gospel we can simultaneously see our sobering wickedness and also the infinite worth that we have in the eyes of God. The gospel gives perfect humility and perfect confidence, and we must remind ourselves of its promise daily, lest we forget.

There is absolute security and assurance in this identity. Charles Spurgeon said, “My faith rests not on what I am or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is, in what He has done, and in what He is now doing for me.” In the same vein, Brennan Manning wrote, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Everything else is illusion.” Finally, the Apostle Paul states, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” See once we are able to see ourselves rightly in the gospel, then every worry and selfish concern falls away, and we are free to follow Christ’s example and give our lives to others and for others, not ashamed of our flaws, but knowing that they are not what define us, but rather the grace that engulfs them.

Of course our flaws and our needs look big when they are the only thing that we ever look at, but if we focus first on God and then live as Christ commands, for Him and for those “neighbors” around us, I wonder if we might find that our problems aren’t so large anymore. Often we think that the solution is to fix ourselves so that we can then go help others, but as sinful people we can never be “fixed” this side of Heaven, and our attempts are often more excuses than anything. Isn’t the whole Bible stories of unhealthy people helping other unhealthy people to become more and more like the perfect God they serve?  I wonder if so much of our anxiety and worry and self-hatred would melt away if we just stopped focusing on ourselves so much and instead poured out our lives as a living sacrifice for God to others. An old hymn sums this up awesomely:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

I still struggle with my own selfishness each day, and it continues to be difficult to really give my life to Christ entirely, but the amazing thing is that when we really do give Him everything, He gives so much more back. C.S. Lewis describes this foolish grasping for earthly things, saying, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” It is so hard to forgo the immediate things in front of us, and we selfishly dwell on them and let them control our lives, but the truest and greatest gift ever given is being offered to us and we are too busy looking in our own mirrors to pay attention to the King who says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

For a significantly better discussion of this topic, please go read The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller.


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Behind the Next Door by Charlotte Sparling

In this season of my life God has been teaching me how to rely on Him through everything, every-little-thing, and that has changed the way I view prayer and tragedies. As Christians, we can get so wrapped up in what we know and understand that we lose the wonder and joy of not knowing. I do not mean “ignorance is bliss” necessarily, but being able to peacefully rest in the knowledge that we do not have to know the next step because the Lord goes before us, carving our hearts for every situation and every event. He, who made our hearts, who molded our flesh, will not abandon us. This is not to say that evil things do not happen or will not happen to us in the future, but rather point out that there is someone to hold us and bring us words of unexplainable comfort in those times.

If you write a timeline of your life, what do you see? I guarantee that you will find ways that the Lord has comforted you through situations, preparing your heart for this world; just as we all prepare for the temptations we know we will battle. It is up to us to remove the veil from our eyes to clearly see our Lord, not our future. Trust me, I very much would love to know that I possess a happy ending in this world, however I know that is not what is promised. My happy ending is being where I am made to be - with Jesus Christ. But until then I will pray that he guides my every step and allows me to be used for the bettering of His kingdom. My relationship with Jesus would not be as strong if I knew what was coming because I would not have to rely on Him for my future. So this fog in front of us, is truly a blessing, as hard as that is to admit.

When I am in this fog, I have seen Jesus pull me closer to others through prayer. Prayer is not a hail mary, a last effort in the game of life. It is the defense and offense, all in one. Prayer with others brings relief to hearts enslaved by imperfection, and is by no means a passive doing. It strengthens hearts and pulls others closer to one another. It breeds vulnerability that cannot hide behind a mask of perfection and misguided sorrow. It deepens the realization that this life is not our own, but God’s. I have so much to learn that a lifetime will not fulfill, but I am confident that there is not a situation for which prayer is not the answer. My Lord is diligent to me, and I pray that my prayers will be to diligent Him as well in everything that I do.

Romans 12:12 ~ Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.


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Where Hope is Found by Kirsten Hyde

We live in a world that fills our subconscious thoughts with so many different ideas of what we should be known for or what we should be clinging to. Whether it be our friends, job, family, education, number of followers on instagram, music we listen to, church we attend, sports team we associate with, etc., we all identify with something. While these things we invest our time and resources in are not bad, they can be harmful when we start to rely on them as our source of hope; what we run to first for fulfillment. What I have realized is that prior to this program my hope was placed in the idea that after these 9 months of learning and growing all the puzzle pieces would come together. That I would come in and love everything about my “new life” here in Nashville and that I would be affirmed in the realms of life that I have been unsure of. While I have not had the affirmation in certain aspects I imagined, especially vocationally, I think the questioning has been more beneficial than the affirmation I had hoped for.

This season is bringing me to a place of questioning God’s calling for my life and where I can best serve His kingdom. I have been reconsidering where and what that might be. Have I made the right choices vocationally? What will work look like for me in the future? Where can I best serve His kingdom? These are some questions I have been wrestling with lately. I am learning that my life isn’t just a puzzle that I am working to put together perfectly to reach a state of completion and realizing that has brought so much freedom. He is teaching me to let go of my pride in thinking I am powerful enough to complete the puzzle. Only God is powerful enough for that kind of work.  

So no, I do not know if I am in a place that I will be forever, or even for one more year. I do not know what occupation or education I will pursue or enter into next. I also do not know where I will be or the community I might be surrounded by. I do know that I am a daughter of our one true King and that is where my identity and hope is found. It is not always the easiest place for me to find it, but I know that my hope can only be found in Christ alone. That is the place that I will be reaffirmed.

Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.” Christ’s faithfulness is why we can cling to this hope, even though my hope will waver, His faithfulness will not. If my life depended on my hope and faithfulness to Him alone then I would be in deep trouble. Thankfully a life of faith is not just about my faithfulness to Him, but more importantly His faithfulness to me.

To end with, I want to share a song that has been dear to my heart and has brought many slivers of encouragement to me in the past few months. It is “I Don't Wanna Go” by Chris Renzema and these lyrics speak right to my heart, every time.

“I will go where you go

I will stay where you stay

Cause I don't wanna go if you're not going before me

Like Jesus in the garden

Will you take this cup from me

Like Jesus in the garden

You don't call where you won't lead

I wanna love like you love

I wanna bleed like you bleed”

I find so much peace in these words and the reminder that I was not called to do any of this life alone. He will take me where He wants me, and on top of that He will even go before me if I will just surrender to Him. In this season of questioning and searching I am being brought back to the thankfulness I have that our Heavenly Father’s promises stay true and that He is exactly who He says He is, every single day.


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Consistency by Noemie Mutumbo

Something that I have been struggling with for a long time is consistency. I can never seem to find the right way to work on it. Even worse, my habit to self-criticize has rendered the task more challenging. Self-criticism has always been a faithful friend of mine, and there are times we engage in unhealthy conversations in my mind that draw me down rather than inspire me. But that’s not the entire problem. The problem is my attitude and misconception about what consistency involves. I have learned and am learning more and more about consistency. It is something that I continuously work on every day, and I take joy to share with you the beautiful lessons that I have come to understand along the way

Struggles and misconception.

Being a Christian, I consider myself to have, at the very least, a good standard of values. I make bettering myself an objective to pursue in order to imitate and reflect Jesus. However, several times I forget and ignore the complementary task of living it rather than just aspiring to it. This purposeful life I choose goes beyond wishing, nudging, and desiring. It extents to the concrete; the adoption of persistent attitudes created by consistency.

Without consistency, we fall in the same cycles, which I have done a billion times. Often, I find myself frustrated and wondering why this would happen when I have good intentions. Consistency requires a repeated effort. “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently,” Dixit Tony Robbins. As much as I can wish it, the achievement of a good routine cannot happen due to the mere fact that it was said and done once or a few times. It is something that continues even after the excitement and motivation have vanished.

Every day with a struggle of its own: unending work 

I have to admit that it sounds a little depressing. Just imagining a steady conformity to something sounds tiring and boring. Also, thinking about the amount of effort we have to put into something in order to achieve it can be intimidating and discouraging.

But God always comes to the rescue with the perfect word. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33). Just like a mason should not worry about the accumulated amount of work and time to build a mansion, neither should we worry about the whole struggle and effort of building our character and living with purpose. Why bear the weight of accomplishing the work of a season in a day? How about breaking down a task, taking on one goal at a time?

365 days, 365 new beginnings,” they say. Let us wake up every morning and only worry about what must be done then. It makes the day lighter and brings to focus a few things at a time. Additionally, time makes a consistent attitude or action look easier, as it is incorporated in a routine. This unending work creates rhythm. That is when we start to enjoy life more and more, as we observe the little success.

Good and bad distraction? 

I have tried my best to stay away from bad distractions. Chitchatting unnecessarily, spending less time on social media (Hmmm, still a struggle. lol), or binge-watching movies (Seriously, can anyone one really resist?). But even after staying away from them, I somehow find myself in an inconsistent rhythm, and fall back to frustration and negative self-criticism.

This life is so full of entertainment and things you can do. For someone with my personality, exploring life is an ultimate goal. I always express my desire to experience every good thing in life and I believe that I was made for a life of abundance.

Here is the thing, many things are to be experienced, but not all experiences are to be lived by me. They are all good, yet, not essentially a necessity. That led me to conclude that there are indeed “bad” and “good” distractions. But even good distractions can lead us away from our goals. Working on recognizing the things that are good, yet unnecessary, should be observed and controlled in order to stay on track with our objectives.

The decisive moment. 

The critical moments in the process have not been all the times I’ve decided to do better, just like I am tempted to do every December 31st. Unfortunately, they all end up being pep talks that vanish the moment I have to move into the concretization. The most important moment in consistency is the moment we must decide to concretize the plan: the moment we have to decide either staying in bed 15 min more after the alarm or waking up, either scrolling for 5 more minutes through social media or working on more important things, you name it! That moment right there is the crucial moment when have to decide either to look up to the objective and stay consistent, or to give in and restart the cycle.

Because it is easier said than done, we do not have a better option than relying on God’s strength. Philippians 3:12 says “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

God is on our side.

The work has begun, stay hopeful. 

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ JesusPhilippians 1:6

There is no need for us to be miserable and lose motivation when we don’t acquire good habits as fast as we wish. The truth is the work has already begun. The struggle that we experience in a transformation is simply the proof that it is working. Change is coming, and the bad is being overpowered. It might be easier to change overnight, but it is more wonderful to live the renewal after the endurance.

We’ve got this!


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